Photographing Difficult Children and Adults

Most children over the age of five hate the camera - they are fed up of being photographed by over enthusiastic parents, grandparents and relatives who shove a camera in their face at every opportunity. No wonder that they hate the camera and, worst of all, being told to smile! So when you show up on their doorstep or they show up at your studio, you have an uncooperative ball of hyperactive energy that runs away or hides their face just as you are about to press the shutter.

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Sound familiar? Now there are many tips and tricks to try to get kids laughing and looking at the camera and believe me I have tried them all, from hiring a clown to having your assistant blowing bubbles and although some of them have worked some of the time, I have a tip that will work all of the time… if you are willing to let them handle the camera.

Look At The Camera!

For the child who absolutely hates the camera and will run away every time he/she see the lens pointing their way, you have two options.

  1. The parent grabs the kid holds them on their lap and keeps them there until you have taken a photo.
    With this technique you never, I repeat, never get a good photo. Mom or Dad is looking strained and the kid looks like he could either be constipated to about to murder someone. Not a Good Photo.
  2. If you have a digital point and shoot or even if you are using a DSLR then you can let them take some photos of their parents and see the image on the LCD screen. This works wonders and if you don’t want to give them your camera, you ask them what they want a photo of and take it for the, keeping the strap around your neck and showing them the results.

Once they are excited at your ‘magic’ camera, you could say some thing like, “Aww, poor camera… he has seen everyone else but he hasn’t seen you yet (Pause for dramatic effect and say excitedly). I know, why don’t we show him just what you look like!” 9 times out of 10 the child will get excited and stand still long enough for the shot.

Now with option 2, be prepared to waste a lot of digital film, but it does work and as always you can delete the ones you don’t want.

If you are using film, obviously this showing of the photos isn’t going to be an option, there are however a few other ways of getting a child used to and happy with the camera. Take an old, broken point and click or even a SLR that is totally beyond repair and make up a game:

  • The Child has to stalk you, their siblings or their parents taking photos of them.
  • They have to try to take as many photo’s of you before you spot them then you have to try to take as many photo’s of them before they spot you (Camera hide and seek).

Just like children (even models!) adults hate their photo taken, now I’m not suggesting that you play hide and seek with them, but letting them touch, investigate and take a few photos with your main camera is a really good idea. Show them in detail what everything does. If they don’t want to know then that’s fine. Stop telling them and get on with the shoot but most people are interested.

There are many different games you could play, trust your instincts on the day and always remember to respect the child, never talk down to them or they will never respect you.

Smile Please!

Everyone hates being told to smile, especially when they are having a bad day. Understand that although you have been booked for that particular day to photograph that particular child or family, there is nothing to say that they are having a good day. Most likely they are stressed, worried and nervous.

You are around cameras all the time and you have become so used to them that they don’t seem impressive and scary any more. Please remember that an SLR is scary to the every day non-photographic person with lenses that come off and move in an out, looking like a rather large unblinking eye pointed in their direction. The humongous flash sitting on a strange looking bracket, also pointed in their direction is totally, undeniably scary. Try to remember back to when you were not a photographer and you got your first SLR, remember how confusing it was and scary? That what is going through your client’s minds.

Humour is always a good way to make people smile, I can hear you saying, “Duh… I knew that.” But how many times have you made people smile for a photograph this way.
Don’t Tell Dirty Jokes! If you are in a pub getting photo’s of the regulars, this might be appropriate, but never ever tell dirty jokes to a family.

If you don’t know many jokes then you can be silly. I know that you want to project an air of professionalism, but being silly will get you laughs from both the adults and the children. If you choose to be silly then don’t do it half heartedly as the children with think that you aren’t respecting them and will, therefore, not respect you.
Silly walks, Funny voices, funny faces are a small selection of what you can do.

If you are unconfident with the silly approach then you can fall back on the old stand-fast way of getting people to smile, this approach gets them to smile at themselves.
You can get them to say silly phrases:

  • “Red lorry, yellow lorry” a few times really quickly.
  • “Penny picks pockets primly” also quickly.
  • “Chocolate biscuits” is one that brings a smile to peoples faces for some reason.
  • “Pants!” or “Bogies!” is also good, the kids will laugh themselves silly.

Try watching Saturday morning children’s television to see what makes them laugh, funny catchphrases and funny faces.


What do I really need to say here, it’s been said in countless publications everywhere. I’ll summarize:

  1. Dad should be higher than the rest of the family (usually standing).
  2. Mum comes next with the smallest child on her lap.
  3. Eldest sitting next to Mum.
  4. Middle child kneeling on the floor.
  5. Stagger head height.
  6. Eye-line to mouth line if possible.
  7. Legs tapering to a point.
  8. No Gaps visible between people.
  9. 45 degree angle from the people at the ends.
  10. Hands side on or not shown.

I think that’s roughly it. You can hunt out loads of written tips, tricks and rules all over the Internet for posing people.

In Conclusion

People are scared of the camera and you. Remember you are a stranger. Allow them to familiarize themselves with the camera and don’t be stuck up and stuffy, apart from you not getting a good photograph, you probably won’t get anymore photo jobs.

Only do what you feel comfortable with in making people laugh, if jokes are your thing, just remember to make them clean. If being silly is you thing, remember to watch and never go too far and always be professional after the shoot so the client knows that you were just playing a part.

Have Fun yourself! If you aren’t having fun then why should your clients? Laughter is infectious.